Reviewed by Colin Hewitt
Only Horses and Fools by Mark Milbank is a beautiful collection of twenty six well-crafted short stories. The slim 164 page book contains an eclectic mixture of fiction and autobiographical non-fiction.
Mr Milbank, advised to leave Zimbabwe due to being ‘a little too truthful’ about Robert Mugabe’s regime in an earlier volume of memoirs, recounts colourful, charming tales whilst never shying far away from the brutal realities of living as a white farmer in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The opening story ‘A Zimbo in Dorset’ sees him coming to terms with his new surroundings in Dorset whilst struggling with modern technology – finding it almost as challenging as the life he left behind. ‘African Finance’ describes the African monetary system as a huge financial pass-the parcel, and ‘Banks’ is an amusing story, spanning thirty years, about a tobacco farmer playing the banking system at its own game. ‘Harry’ and ‘Daniel’s Dream’ reflect on the violent harshness of life in an independent Zimbabwe.
This glorious hotchpotch of stories is set over a wide time period in numerous locations around the world including Africa and South America. We see the author skiing in the French Alps, sausage making in Argentina, and suffering ‘The Ultimate Embarrassment’ caused by attaching the wrong file to an email. Mr Milbank has certainly led a full life.
A warm, ultimately comforting book by a self-deprecating writer – the whole volume can be consumed in one sitting, or (as in my case) in bite-sized portions commuting to and from work, daydreaming of life working as a gaucho on an Argentinian estancia. My only complaint was that I was left wanting more, and hopefully another volume will follow. After reading these stories I could imagine sharing an afternoon passing the time listening to Mr Milbank recounting his life.
RRP: £6.99 (paperback)
Available to buy from Austin Macauley here.